2013 in review – a personal reflection

music, personal

In the past, I’ve often compiled lists of favorite records,or of books I’ve read (here’s books from 2011, for example) , but this year I’ve curated a mixed bag of experiences, physical things, apps, and art in various media that made an impact on me.

1. iPad music apps – Keezy, Tabletop, and Borderlands Granular.

While I haven’t jumped into iOS music-making with both feet, I definitely got some inspiration and fun from a few iOS music apps in particular.

Keezy is an incredibly fun, simple live-sampling app; press a colorful pad to record from the mic, then press the same pad to play it back. You get 8 pads, and it’s a blast.

Tabletop is definitely more serious, and is an app I’m considering investing a little more into. It’s a flexible, modular electronic music environment; connect together a few devices and start making sounds.

Finally, Borderlands Granular is the most experimental of the three, giving you a unique visual approach to granular synthesis-based sound manipulation. It requires some patience and careful sample loading, but it’s utterly unique.

2. Jimmy DiResta’s videos

Jimmy DiResta is a master craftsman and artist. His video work is simply stunning, showing careful documentation of his projects in wood, metal, fibers, and various other media.

Here’s a link to his full archive on the Make Magazine site:


3. Guitar pedalboard

I posted about this earlier this year on chromedecay; my guitar pedalboard has been a source of new inspiration in the music studio. It’s even grown a little since the video was made, adding a volume pedal and overdrive.

4. New photography experiences

You can see the full 2013 photography wrap-up in another post; suffice it to say, this was a very productive year in terms of new photography experiences for me. Lots of portraiture work and live event photography, including some great music work.

5. Raspberry Pi, Arduino, MaKeyMaKey, and other microcontroller-related stuff.

I wrote some about this in my 2013 year-end teaching reflections, but it really has been inspiring working with the new breed of cheap, flexible microcontrollers. I have a feeling I’ll be working on  some augmented guitar work pieces in 2014, inspired by this MaKey MaKey video:

6. Good NBA Writing

As an NBA nerd, I am truly spoiled for good basketball writing. In particular, Zach Lowe and Kirk Goldsberry from Grantland consistently bring their talent for statistics, strategy and the business of basketball.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fake Lawrence Frank daily reports; super funny if you’re into the sometimes ludicrous machinations of professional basketball (guilty).

7. Lone Bellow on SerialBox Presents

The work that Ryan Booth has done on the SerialBox Presents series of live performance videos on Vimeo is super inspirational. I love his team’s approach to cinematography, their musical choices, and the performances they get from the visiting artists. They are truly using the new medium of inexpensive, flexible HDDSLR equipment to change the way artists can represent themselves and their work.

SerialBox Presents: THE LONE BELLOW [bonus song] from SerialBox Presents on Vimeo.

The Lone Bellow episode was my favorite of this year’s work. 

8. The Great Outdoors & the Upper Peninsula

We had some wonderful experiences this summer visiting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I went to Michigan Technological University for my bachelor’s degree, and it had been 14 years since I’d been back. Getting a chance to explore and revisiting some old favorites, seeing old friends again, and showing my family around was truly special to me. I even got to do a little photography and audio field recording, some of which may filter its way into new work in 2014.

Below are a few favorite photos from that trip:





9. Cross-Country

My eldest son joined the cross-country team this year as a freshman, and it took me back to my own days of running. I really enjoyed photographing him and his team, and getting to know them. They are a great group of kids, and I’m glad to be able to participate again, even if it is as a spectator.

10. My Family

My family has been such a blessing to me over this past year. I can’t wait to spend another year with them!


Summer Reading for 2012

personal, reading

I did a lot of reading this summer, partly for pleasure and partly for the graduate class I took (“Curriculum Foundations”, CURR655 at EMU). As I’ve done for the past few years, I’ve been tracking my reading through GoodReads (see my profile on GoodReads).

Here’s the list of what I read this summer:


I read a fair bit of fiction this summer. It was nice to have as a counterpoint to the heavy academic stuff I had to read for my classes.

Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
David Ignatius

Body of Lies
David Ignatius

The Salzburg Connection
Helen MacInnes

WWW: Wake (WWW, #1)
Robert J. Sawyer

Neal Stephenson

Kill Decision
Daniel Suarez

Bitter Seeds (Milkweed Triptych, #1)
Ian Tregillis


Summer is traditionally a time for me to unwind and read some good YA fiction. This summer, I was busier than usual with other reading, so I only read the Hunger Games series (in a tearing-through-the-pages 2-day stretch that felt like a fever dream – they’re hard to put down, and pretty intense for YA fiction).

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)
Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)
Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)
Suzanne Collins


This list is actually not entirely comprehensive; I read lots of single chapters from different things during my curriculum class, and that’s not really on this list, only works I finished.

The Process of Education
Jerome Bruner

 Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II

Jennet Conant

Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D Day
Cornelius Ryan

Curriculum 21: Essential Education For A Changing World
Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball
R.A. Dickey

La Place De La Concorde Suisse
John McPhee

Seizing the enigma: The race to break the German U-boat codes, 1939-1943
David Kahn

2011’s reading in review

personal, reading

I’ve read a lot of books this year, thanks in part to the joy of tracking things through GoodReads (see my profile on GoodReads). For some reason, keeping track of what I’ve read and want to read in the future has spurred my reading on in ways I didn’t expect.

Here’s the list of what I read in 2011:


In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat in Iraq, by Rick Atkinson

The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966, by Rick Atkinson

Rick Atkinson may be my favorite writer covering military issues – he brings a fantastic balance of experience and objectivity. I’m greatly anticipating the third in his “Liberation Trilogy” about the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.

The New Cool, by Neal Bascomb

A great story about a high school FIRST robotics team. Inspiring.

Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II, by Stephen Budiansky 

Triumph and Tragedy, by Winston S. Churchill

Finally finished the last of Churchill’s World War II memoirs. It was a long slog, but worth it.

Soul Mining, by Daniel Lanois

A beautiful, impressionist look at the work of my favorite music producer.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis

I got slightly obsessed with Michael Lewis’s writing this year; he has the rare talent of taking things I would never be interested in (the financial meltdown, valuations of football players by position, etc) and making them incredibly intriguing.

Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway, by Walter Lord

American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, William Raymond Manchester

Manchester is a fantastic biographer whose work I first read when I tackled his biography of Winston Churchill. This is another excellent piece.

Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage, Joseph E. Persico

Not recommended; this is a strange and scattered accounting of the USA’s World War II espionage and codebreaking. Battle of Wit, by Stephen Budiansky, is much better.

Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, by Evan Thomas

Spare Parts: From Campus to Combat: A Marine Reservist’s Journey from Campus to Combat in 38 Days, by Buzz Williams


Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery (Billy Boyle World War II, #1), by James R. Benn

Pacific Glory: A Novel, by P.T. Deutermann

Enigma, by Robert Harris

Los Alamos, by Joseph Kanon

Lots of WWII-era fiction here; “Pacific Glory” may have been the best among them, but none are really essential. This was basically light summer reading.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I finally read this after years of gentle (and not-so-gentle) suggestion by my lovely wife, and I regret not having read it sooner. A masterpiece.

Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson’s new work, “Reamde”, spurred me on to re-reading “Cryptonomicon” for the fourth or fifth time. “Crytonomicon” is still my absolute favorite of his books, but “Readme” was entertaining; it’s more a thriller (think Bourne Identity) than a piece of historical or science fiction.

The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk

looking back at 2010, looking forward to 2011


As 2010 passes by and 2011 begins, I want to say thank you to all who have helped me become a better photographer this past year.

The first mention has to go to Chase Jarvis and the creativeLIVE organization. As a teacher myself, I am totally amazed by how creativeLIVE is changing the model of education. Their free online seminars were a real touch point for my learning this year. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch some of all 6 photography master classes for free throughout the year, and each one was an amazing learning opportunity. Thanks to Zach Arias, Jeremy Cowart, David DuChemin, Tamara Lackey, Jasmine Star and Vincent LaForet – you have made a difference in my work and life!

Joe McNally is always an inspiration – he blends fantastic writing and teaching with such depth of experience and knowledge that it’s hard to believe you actually get to tap into it through his videos and blog posts. Thank you!

I would be remiss in not mentioning the Strobist blog by David Hobby – year after year it continues to be an incredible source of information about off-camera lighting and photography in general. I’m currently reading Light: Science and Magic based on the continued mentions on his blog, and it is another great resource.

Gary Cosby’s A Little Newsphotojournalism blog was another source of great inspiration this year. Like myself, Gary is a Christian and he has a wonderful ability to write about the intersection between his faith and his work. He went through a tragic year, losing his young son to Down’s Syndrome, but throughout the whole ordeal his honest writing and willingness to share his pain, hope and faith were inspiring.

summer reading 2010

personal, reading

As I did last year, I’ve compiled a list of what I read this summer. The summer months are always a chance for me to unwind (one of the benefits of being a teacher!) and catch up on reading. This summer was a mix of reading areas, as usual.

Non-Fiction: History
I’ve been on a 2-year World War 2 history kick, and this summer I got to finish off the second of Winston S. Churchill’s histories of WWII. I also read about the Monuments Men, and learned the history of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the US Army.

Winston S. Churchill – Their Finest Hour
Robert Edsel – The Monuments Men

Non-Fiction: Photography
One thing I love about the Ypsilanti District Library is their willingness to take suggestions for new purchases from patrons. They ordered both of these titles for me, and I very much enjoyed reading them. The David duChemin book was especially meaningful, as it helped me figure out the voice and vision for my burgeoning freelance photography business.

Joe McNally – The Moment it Clicks
David duChemin – VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography

Non-Fiction: Essays
I love reading good longform essays. I’d read a few of the David Foster Wallace pieces before, including the title essay in his collection “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, but never read most of the others. Longform.org was also a great source for new essays.

David Foster Wallace – A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
lots of essays from longform.org

Fiction: Adult
The two Daniel Suarez books in this list predict a dystopian near-future. Scarily prescient at times.

Daniel Suarez – Daemon
Daniel Suarez – FreedomTM
Gayle Lynds – The Book of Spies

Fiction: Young Adult
I have a soft spot for good YA fiction, and this summer our family all read the Percy Jackson books. Good fun.

Rick Riordan – The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
Rick Riordan – The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
Rick Riordan -The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3)
Rick Riordan -The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4)

on priorities

Christianity, personal

I’m taking a 21-day break (minimum) from Facebook. Here’s why.

I’ve been spending too much time obsessing (there’s no other word for it, really) over whether people are reading my posts, commenting on them, etc. This is self-obsession, and it’s unhealthy. You could argue that assuming people care about me being away from Facebook is also somewhat self-absorbed 🙂

Our church is starting a 21-day fast today, and while I’m partially fasting food, I’m also fasting Facebook. This is a chance to reset my priorities.

Instead of spending time looking for anything new from me, take a few minutes to watch this video instead; it’s excellent.


an Ypsilanti day

personal, Ypsilanti

Today’s activities have all been strongly grounded in my hometown of Ypsilanti.

This afternoon, my wife and I saw the movie Whip It, much of which was filmed here in Ypsilanti. It was odd, and inspiring, to see familiar places on the big screen (the cul-de-sac around the corner from my house was the location for the main character’s house, the downtown Ypsilanti Library on Michigan Ave was clearly visible during at least one shot, and so on). During filming, the crews were parked just down the street from our house, and my wife even got to meet Drew Barrymore as she was out walking (she complimented our dog, and seemed genuinely nice, according to Sarah’s report).

Tonight, I find myself sitting in Bombadill’s Coffeeshop, which is right next door to the Ypsilanti Library on Michigan Ave. As I work on several articles for the ITEA professional journals (The Technology Teacher and Technology and Children), listening to deep Detroit and Berlin electronic music (Mike Huckaby’s S Y N T H remixes, Studio 1, Deepchord, etc), I can see and feel the city’s life pulsing around me. My view out to Michigan Ave provides a nice counterpoint to the whole thing.

It’s nice to have such a strong sense of place – I love Ypsilanti by night.

Summer wrap-up

personal, teaching

In a few short hours, a new school year will start. I just finished reading my last book of the summer, and so now it’s time for a bit of wrap-up about how I spent those 3 fantastic months called summer.

Here’s a quick look at what I did:

-taught a new workshop called Imagine, Design, Build workshop for Honey Creek’s summer camp.

-applied for and won a MACUL grant to get digital cameras into the hands of middle schoolers in Ann Arbor and South Africa.

-attended 2 meetings of GO-Tech, the Ann Arbor area DIY technology group, and presented about Processing at one of them

-did lots of curriculum planning, including starting to work through the Understanding by Design book

-went camping with the family twice and took ’em to Michigan’s Adventure, a great amusement park/water  park.

-played guitar at church a lot (almost every Wednesday) and helped with our Vacation Bible School.

-cleaned & reorganized my music studio

-took lots of photos, including starting to use off camera flash with the purchase of a Wein peanut slave

-worked on planning for updates to the chromedecay site, including wireframing and new WordPress install

-read lots of books:

Work Hard, Be Nice – Jay Mathews
Close Kin – Clare Dunkle
The Hollow Kingdom – Clare Dunkle
Wired for War – P.W. Singer
Here, There Be Dragons – James A. Owen
Churchill – Roy Jenkins
Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain – Richard Collie
DroidMaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution – Michael Rubin
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940 – William Manchester
The Right Stuff – Tom Wolfe
Meet the Austins – Madeleine L’Engle
The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Here’s to a fantastic school year, filled with learning, teaching, and inspiration!

current reading list

personal, reading

Here’s what I’m currently reading:

1. Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America, by Jay Mathews

This book charts the creation of the KIPP public charter schools. I picked this up to help get inspired for the new school year, as well as to crib some teaching tips from successful teachers, and so far it’s working.

2. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, by P.W. Singer

A fascinating look at the use of robotics in warfare. It is, by turns, scary, mindblowing, inspiring, and thought-provoking. I’m really enjoying the writing style, too – P.W. Singer writes with a strong knowledge of popular culture and even a sense of humor.

3. A History of Modern Europe, Second Edition: From the Renaissance to the Present, by John Merriman

Much of this is fairly dry stuff, but I’ve realized, during some of my recent reading about World War I and World War II, that I wanted to have a better handle on the broader scope of European history. This certainly provides it, even if it’s somewhat slow going at times. With luck, I’ll get out of the 1600s before September!

4. Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

I have to confess, I had hoped to complete this book early in the summer and use it as a springboard for creating fantastic new unit plans for the upcoming school year…but that didn’t happen. I love the idea that “understanding” is a multifaceted phenomenon (an idea that happens to come up in “Wired for War”, too, in the context of artificial intelligence). The book’s central premise is that it makes sense to know what kinds of understanding(s) you want students to have at the end of a unit of instruction, and then work backwards from there to figure out what and how you’re going to teach in order to get them to that point. I just haven’t managed to get very far yet. Two weeks left until school starts; I’m hoping I can make a pretty good dent by then and finish shortly after that.

“All you have to do to cook is want to do it. The kitchen is never the problem.”


I was reading an article about tiny kitchens in the New York Times today, and the following quote really struck me:

““All you have to do to cook is want to do it. The kitchen is never the problem.”

In the midst of all the materialism that unfortunately surrounds this season, that’s nice to remember. It’s never really about the tools (though the right tools can certainly help in the right hands) – it’s about the desire and creativity of the person engaging in the process of creating something.